I'm a liar. In class, I play the Devil's advocate so often that it moves into absurdity. A frequent trope of mine is to introduce a text by asking, "What was this about? I haven't actually read it, myself," in order to force the students to describe a work as if to someone who hasn't read it. Of course, they all know that I've read it (either that or I'm the best guesser of details in the world), but it's a fun sort of fiction to maintain. I'll often pretend that anecdotes I tell are simply random digressions, and then act surprised when, 40 minutes later in the class, some student manages to see how my apparently-unconnected story actually illustrates something important about the text we are reading. It takes a lot of work to make a lecture seem off-the-cuff (well, I suppose it takes very little work at all if it is all actually off-the-cuff, but then it isn't likely to go anywhere, is it?), but it's simply my own take on the Aristotle's dialectical pedagogy. In his case, Aristotle pretended to be an idiot who needed things explained to him. In my case, I pretend to lecture when I'm actually casting lines out for the students to use to make connections. Sneaky, huh?
Rarely, then, am I surprised by anything that comes up in class (though I frequently act surprised). My students' sudden insights are discoveries I have buried for them to find in most cases. Last week, though, I really was surprised by something a student brought up -- sand castles as medievalism.
I confess, I had never before thought about sand castles as a manifestation of medievalism -- though now that I think of it, it's painfully obvious. When you've got a beach full of sand and you decide to make a structure, why make a sand castle? Why not a sand fortress? A sand beachhouse? A sand skyscraper? Castles are not otherwise particularly associated with sand or beaches, I think.
In the class discussion that followed, we came up with two theories about this, neither of which are satisfying the more that I think about it. One theory is that certain kinds of buckets form a shape that is generally like a square structure with for "turrets," one on each side. While this is true, it doesn't seem to me that this necessarily suggests a castle, nor is it necessarily the most common form of beach bucket (I think the rounded kind is more common). The other theory was the theory of the moat. Beaches offer the opportunity to have a real moat with real water, and this suggests a castle (since their aren't many apartment buildings with moats). I favored this idea in class, but when I went online and began to look at images of sand castles, I began to reject this idea, as castles with moats seem to be in the minority.
What is it, then, about sand castles that makes them sand castles? Any suggestions from the Wordhoarders out there?